August 2006 Archives
IT'S eleven o'clock and like the legions of get-a-life football saddoes across the nation I am dug in for the nail-biting countdown to the midnight thud as the transfer window slams shut.
It has become a much-loved late-night multi-media institution that grips an anxious on-line or armchair bound audience, all waiting for long expected results to be made concrete while braced for the odd electric surprise. It's like election night or the Eurovision Song Contest.
Sky Sport News is on with the annoying yellow banner still worryingly bereft of a confirmation that Peter Kenyon has found a pen down the back of Ashley Cole's sofa and finally signed the Huth deal. The laptop has the BBC and Fly Me To The Moon open in different windows and I'm flicking between them with Six Music on in the background. Rothmans (and it will always be Rothamans no matter who sponsors it now) is handy in case of any "who he?" scenarios. There is a glass of medicinal whisky to hand. It is one of those times when I wished I still smoked.
BARRING injuries - and this is Boro so don't rule out early action for the stretcherbearers - Southgate has now plugged the gaps at the back with a central defensive pairing that has finally replaced two key figures of what was once a watertight defence.
The new Gate has replaced the old Gate as a classy ball playing defender who is tough in the tackle but also has the anticipation, positioning and organisational qualities that give them an edge against the best and who can make a back-line greater than the sum of its parts.
And Huth has finally replaced Ugo, a bruising, physical, athletic presence that can bully even the biggest strikers and who adds strength and height to the defence. The commanding Ehiogu of three or four years ago has been sorely missed and left Boro with a soft centre.
If things work out then these can be two brilliant signings that ease the early pressure on the boss and give him the platform to shape the team he wants. If they don't, well....
ERRATIC BORO showed against Portsmouth that no matter how many times they beat Chelsea to spark momentary delusions of grandeur, some glaring problems remain.
There is no getting away from it; the defence are ropey at set pieces, there is an abject lack of creativity and there is a major problem on the right. Unless these debilitating issues are addressed before the transfer deadline we can expect to spend the season in the bottom half.
HANDS off Stewie! Spurs can get stuffed. When did they become Real Madrid, announcing publicly which players they intended to sign? Big club? It's 45 years since they won the title. One half decent season and they have become delusional.
And good on Lambie for weighing into Arsenal's arrogant little unsucccesful neighbours. Boro's faxmeister has blasted Martin Jol's market methodology, knocked back their 'derisory' offer for the England wing wizard and countered with a cheeky bid for right winger Aaron Lennon.
BORO are going to get battered by a Chelsea side looking for revenge: that was the underpass consensus. Even the ra-ras were rattled.
But things went Boro's way a bit even before kick-off as Robben was injured in the warm-up. Every little helps. Maybe lightening will strike twice. He says clutching at straws.
The pre-match atmosphere in the Riverside was upbeat and positive and Pagey pumped it up with some heavy beats, even Led Zeppelin was in the mix. Then during Pigbag there was the big card display organised by the Twe12th Man, the fans group with hopes of becoming a latter day Ayresome Angels. 86-06 Reborn was the message, a celebration of the fact that this game was taking place 20 years to the day since Boro came back from the brink of exteinction and played Port Vale at Hartlepool's Victoria Ground.
FORGET Cardiff and Eindhoven. The BIGGEST game in Boro's history was the humdrum clash with Port Vale at Hartlepool 20 years ago today. There is no question about that.
Had borrassic Boro not played that unspectacular third division 2-2 draw at a borrowed ground then there would be no mould-breaking Carling Cup glory, no traipsing around mob-handed pouring dobie into the fountains in some of the most historic cities in Europe, no Riverside, no Robbo, no Ravanelli, no Juninho and no luxurious arguments over whether we should consolidate in the top flight or risk all on a mad dash for the Champions League.
Had Boro not made the fixture - a frighteningly real prospect 24 hours before - Boro would definitely have been kicked out of the league, chief exuctive Graham Kelly had made that clear. Boro Chairman Colin Henderson had prepared a fallback position of applying to join the Conference - but that would have been pointless had the consortium not agreed to every condition to prevent liquidation. Bust, with no ground and no players even the Conference would have been a pipedream. Boro would have been dead.
AFTER the opening day shambles at Reading, Gareth Southgate has just ten days to beat the deadline and bring in the two quality defenders Boro need if they are avoid being sucked into an uncomfortable season of struggle.
Don't let the MOTD highlights fool you into thinking it was just a five minute wobble after Arca was injured or that a dodgy offside decision somehow robbed them. Boro were tortured for 40 minutes either side of the break and could easily have leaked three more.
And don't be fooled either into thinking that an ageing defender who has mentally hung up his boots once and for all to concentrate on running the team can come in and save the day. If you believe that then why not go the whole hog and bring back Coops as well as the Gate. No, Boro must buy quickly and with the Huth deal on ice and Distin opting to stay and count his money at City then it is time for the much trumpeted scouting network to justify its existence.
WITH the best will in the world it is hard to come into a cut-throat environment populated by sharks and charlatans and to hit the ground running so maybe it is no surprise that transfer rookie Gareth Southgate has been left gobsmacked by his first trip to the summer sales.
Obviously it is the executives of the club who do the negotiations and who in recent years have become quite shrewd. But the new boss has witnessed the complex machinations up close for the first time this summer and has been left frustrated and empty handed.
He explained at yesterday's press conference how his first bout of market dealings had been far more complicated than he could ever have imagined when he entered the job. I don't think these quotes have been used anywhere else because the rat pack were more concerned with asking him if he was too soft for the job. So I suppose that makes this "an exclusive."
JUDGING by the reaction of Gareth Southgate to an unusally direct question at Boro's pre-Reading press conference today, the chances of signing Manchester City defender Sylvain Distin are fading fast.
Amid the usual tame questioning that invites all the easy headline cliches Southgate was suddenly faced with a very simple inquiry. Having established that the fee had been agreed, that Boro's moneymen had spoken to his people, and that Southgate had spoken to Distin to "sell" the club in football terms, he was asked: "Do you think he will sign for Boro then?"
BERNIE, Bernie Slaven! Teesside's favourite fence-climbing goal hero turned Morrissey impersonator and one-man media machine launched his new biographical DVD at a star-studded, invitation only international premier at Cineworld on Marton Road.
And 'Lucky Slaven' was hugely enjoyable. A well made, compelling and nostalgic look back at the life and times of a man who, despite being inhibited by the lack of a right foot or pace and having only a sketchy knowledge of the offside law, became the arch-exponent of the timely six yard tap-in and sealed his place in Boro folklore with 147 goals and some forthright opinions.
The documentary - and the DVD extra of 90 brilliant Bernie goals from Boro's electric post-liquidation fairytale years - persuaded me to set aside the usual cynical freebie blagging and stump up hard cash for a copy. Here are a few random observations about it.